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Police dog on patrol in Tea

The newest member of the Tea Police Department comes to the force at only two years old.

Suni, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, started on the police force in April. Handler Taylor White has been in law enforcement for about five and a half years and is a first-time canine handler. 

“In my career in law enforcement, I’ve always had a focus on drug and DUI enforcement. I’ve always strived for removing drugs from the roadways, removing impaired drivers from the roadway,” White said. “When Chief (Jessica Quigley) announced the canine position, I figured that that would be a great opportunity to apply and utilize the dog to locate additional drugs on the roadway, remove those from the streets, make the community more safe.”

As the city and the county continue to see a rise in illegal drugs, White said having Suni on the force provides an extra tool to locate those drugs. She already detected drugs on only her second shift with the department. 

“On her second shift, she was deployed and indicated to the odor of illegal drugs coming from the vehicle and drugs were located in the vehicle. She’s smart,” White said. “It was good to see the several hours of training that we spent at camp and to be able to see that come to fruition on her second shift was exciting to see that she was able to indicate to that odor.”

White and Suni spent six weeks from early March through April 11 training with five other dogs on detection. Others in the class came from East and West River police departments, sheriff’s offices, highway patrol and state trooper. The South Dakota Highway Patrol puts on the detection training once a year.

Suni is trained to detect illegal drug odor. While she could, Suni is not trained as a patrol dog.

Born in Romania in March 2022, Suni went to Germany for training to ensure that she would be a good fit for police work. At that training, trainers did different exercises to make sure that they listen well and had the drive to be a police dog.

Following assurance that she would make a good police dog, she went to a company in Alabama that specializes in dogs for law enforcement. She came to Tea in January where she spent a month bonding with White before going through drug detection training.

While many might think of German Shepherd Dogs or Labradors as police dogs, the Belgian Malinois are sought after in police work for how they perform. White said they are known to be hardworking service animals that were initially bred for service work.

“They have high drives that we look for in police work. They’re very smart animals. They’re very agile,” he said.

Suni spends all of her time with White, whether that’s at home or on patrol. Since she is officially certified now, she rides around in a police car built specifically with a kennel in it. 

At home, White tries to separate work from home. At home, it’s time to relax and it’s boring time for her. She has also bonded with White’s Corgi at home where they play and do dog things in the backyard.

“At home she’s very calm. She doesn’t come in the house. She’s not a house pet. She has her own kennel,” White said. “We still go for walks. We go for runs. We still have a fenced in backyard so we play fetch.”

When it’s time to go to work, White said that is when she has her fun. When she is at work, they continue to train to perfect her skills. They will also attend two trainings per month with other agencies with instructors.

“We work to improve her skills and keep her fresh on different odors and make sure she’s doing what she needs to be doing,” White said.

White plans for Suni to be out in the public and do some demonstrations with her to show her abilities as a narcotics detector dog. They will be out walking around and be on patrol too. The community will see her out and about during Teapot Days as well.

White noted that Suni likes people, but she is also a worker so if someone wants to pet her they need to ask.

“There are times where if she’s in a working mode or in a capacity of that nature, I don’t want people to pet her just because we don’t want anything bad to happen. They get into these drives so she can get very focused in,” he said. “If she’s just roaming around and people ask to pet her and I say it’s OK, they’re more than welcome to pet her.”


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